A Practical Guide to Building in a Conservation Area

Conservation areas are defined as ‘areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance’. Homes are generally more expensive and appreciate in price more than properties in other areas, even considering location and other factors, making them highly desirable areas to live.

However, being in a conservation area might mean that your house is affected by special controls (called Article 4 Directions). These restrict work you can normally do without planning permission such as detailed residential changes like two-storey extensions and dormer windows.

And what about when you want to build a new house? Getting permission to build a new home in a protected area can often seem difficult.

Your planning proposal will need to be more sensitive to the local heritage and historical architecture than normal. However, it certainly doesn’t mean your extension or new build house should be an exact copy of the houses next door.

Local conservation officers will be looking for high quality design that enhances and preserves aspects of the local area. New buildings and their surrounding spaces must be well thought through and sympathetic to the character of the area. The siting, scale, height, form, details and building materials all need to be carefully chosen.

If you are planning major renovations or going to build a new house in a conservation area, here at Malone Architecture we conduct thorough preparation and research before any design work begins. Here are the main considerations.

Malone Architecture’s Process of design in Conservation Areas:

Preparation

  • Research what has been approved locally in the past.
  • Explore any previous Planning Applications for the subject site and neighbouring properties on the Local Authority Planning register website.
  • Visit the area and get an idea of the size, scale and general pattern/grain of development in the area.
  • Conservation areas are not no-go areas for new buildings.
  • Research any relevant design guides produced by the Local Authority.
  • Research any mentions of the building or site in any published literature or online.
  • Research the history of the site ie. previous land uses and ownership etc.
  • Research the Local Authority Character Assessment for the subject property or group of properties.
  • Have a clear argument regarding demolition in the Conservation Area.

Design

  • Write a Design and Access Statement which articulates that you have understood all of the above considerations and how your proposed design enhances and/or does not harm the Conservation Area.
  • Designing in a Conservation Area does not mean that historic pastiche is the only answer!  We have found that when we make our case to the Planning Department they would rather have a building that is of its own time and place in history.
  • When we assess a Conservation Area for a new extension or a new building we would generally work with the size, scale and general pattern/grain of the local area.

Pre-application

  • Consult immediate neighbours and perhaps incorporate any ideas/requests that do not compromise the proposals.
  • Consult any local resident’s groups who may have an interest. Again, perhaps incorporate any ideas/requests that do not compromise the proposals.
  • Arrange a Planning Pre-Application meeting to discuss the proposals with the Planning Department prior to submission.
  • After the Pre-App meeting clients can choose whether they wish to incorporate any suggested changes to their proposals or proceed as planned and let the planning process decide whether the proposals are acceptable to a wider audience and possibly the Planning Committee, should that be necessary during the process.

Other considerations

Do consider Local Planning Policies and national Government Permitted Development regulations. Although they are rescinded in Conservation Areas, they do remain a ‘material consideration’ for the Planning Department when assessing a Planning Application.

In order to facilitate our design process and the production of drawings for Planning we would require:

  • A digital measured survey of the site topography and any existing buildings.
  • An Ordnance Survey map of the local area.
  • Land ownership records
  • A photographic record of the existing site and buildings
  • Records of underground works, underground services, overhead cables and even underground railways!

In addition to this information, we may also require the following to support a planning application:

  • Specialist environmental reports on protected wildlife species that may be present on site eg bats, great crested newts, dormouse, reptiles, badgers, etc.  Nesting birds are protected too.
  • Archaeology reports, either desktop or site investigations although site investigations are usually a condition in order that they can be carried out once the project has moved to a pre-construction phase.
  • Building surveys, where a structure or a part of a structure may be beyond repair.
  • Environmental impact reports
  • Hydrological assessment reports for deep foundations, retaining walls or basement construction
  • Soil investigation reports
  • Flooding risk assessments
  • A report from a qualified arborist on any trees that may be affected by the proposals
  • Any relevant Tree Protection Orders
  • A tree protection plan
  • Contaminated Land Register
  • Records of local Rights of Way

Listed or Locally Listed buildings

With Statutory Listed buildings, Grade 1, 2 or 2*, the LPA may require an approved historic advisor to be appointed by the client to oversee and advise on work on site.

Methods and procedures statements for how work may be carried out and descriptions of protection that would be used in order to preserve historic features during construction processes may also be requested.

If you wish to get approval for a house design that could be controversial, we highly recommend working with your architect to define a clear strategy for obtaining planning approval. It’s essential that you use a skilled architect to enhance your chances of success.

Here at Malone Architecture we have helped many clients to navigate the pitfalls of building in a Conservation Area and look forward to working with you to come up with a design that is sympathetic to the area yet contemporary.

Contact us to discuss your next project, call us on 020 8793 5135 or use our contact us form and we’ll be in touch.

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